Year C Easter 4 John 20
So Who Needs a Shepherd?
John 10:22-30

One Sunday morning, following the church service, a layman accosted the pastor and said, "Tom, this church has been insulting me for years, and I did not know it until this week." The stunned pastor replied, "What on earth do you mean?" "Well," said the layman, every Sunday morning the call to worship in this church ends with the words, ‘We are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.' And I have heard ministers over the years call the congregation, God's flock.' Then this past week I visited the Chicago stockyards. There I discovered that sheep are just about the dumbest animals God ever created. Why, they are so stupid that they even follow one another docilely into the slaughterhouse. Even pigs are smarter than sheep, and I would certainly be angry if my church called me a pig' every Sunday morning. So I'm not at all sure I want to come to church and be called a sheep' any longer...even God's sheep'."

The man had a point. But whether we like it or not, that is the language of the Bible: both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament. We are called "God's sheep." The favorite psalm of many people is the 23rd, and it begins by saying, "The Lord is my shepherd..." And if "the Lord is my shepherd," then I am one of the Lord's sheep. Centuries before Christ, the prophet Isaiah said to his people: "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6) From the Bible, we have taken this pastoral imagery over into the Church. One of the symbols of the office of bishop across the centuries has been the shepherd's crook, that long staff with a hook on the end. And ministers are often called "pastors." In the dictionary, one of the meanings of "pastor" is "shepherd," coming from a Latin word which means "feeder." At the end of the Fourth Gospel we have that final resurrection appearance of the Lord by the Sea of Galilee when He asked Peter three times whether he loved Him, and Peter answered three times that he did. And Jesus said to Peter, "Feed my sheep."

The word "pastor" is a common one used to refer to an ordained person who is in charge of a congregation. Sometimes I wonder whether it is not a bit anachronistic, coming as it does from a rural, pastoral metaphor which seems rather out of date in our busy, urban, industrialized society...

  1. Pastoral Language in a Modern World
  2. The Messianic Claim of the Good Shepherd
  3. Who Needs a Shepherd? We Do!

The Color Wheel of Blindness
John 10:23-30

When anxious teenagers finally go to get that sovereign rite of passage into adulthood called the "driver's license," they have to pass a tricky written test and a nerve-racking driving test. But there is a third test they must pass as well: A vision test.

It is one of the odder quirks of the DMV (Division of Motor Vehicles) that the eye exam is often given last — suggesting that knowing the rules and operating a vehicle are more important than being sure you can see where you are going!

For most drivers, the eye exam is nothing, takes virtually no time, and hardly registers as a "test." That is, until you reach a certain age. For older drivers the one exam they cannot study for, the one skill they cannot improve with practice, the one exam over which they have the least control, becomes the biggest obstacle to renewing their license. Degenerating eyesight, either because of cataracts, glaucoma, astigmatisms, or just increasing near- or far-sightedness, ends the driving careers of many older adults.

In driving, there comes a time when experience and insight don't help. What is required is eyesight.

The problem with the old adage "what you see is what you get" is that vision is surprisingly subjective. Ask any police officer trying to get eyewitness reports at the scene of an accident and they will confirm that ten witnesses will give ten very different versions of the event. They eye might be an amazing piece of biological equipment. The eye might be a remarkable camera. The eye might be a feat of unparalleled divine imagination. But the information behind the images the eye spies is processed by our whole being. Every "picture" our eyes take is colored, clouded, focused, and framed, by a lifetime of experiences and expectations.

As Jesus strolled around the temple during the festival of Dedication, his image was at odds with the picture of a Messiah that the Jewish people had come to expect. The Festival of Dedication commemorated a military-religious triumph. Under the leadership of Judas Maccabee (aka "Judah the Hammer"), the Syrians were sent packing. The so-called "desolating sacrilege" (1 Maccabee 1:59) of a pagan altar constructed within the temple was torn down. A new altar was constructed and sanctified. The Jewish victors celebrated, confident that God's presence had once again been established and ensconced within the temple.

Jesus did not look like any "Judas the Hammer" or talk like one either. Jesus did not speak of running the Romans out of town on a rail. Jesus talked about being a "Good Shepherd." Jesus spoke of self-sacrifice. Jesus likened the faithful to "sheep," not mighty warriors. Jesus offered protection and presence, not triumph and glory.

To "the Jews" who questioned his identity and challenged him to tell them "plainly" if he were the Messiah, Jesus just didn't look right or sound right. His words and images were not what they expected.

How could suffering bring salvation?
How could weakness bring strength?
How could a shepherd stand up against a soldier?
How could the presence of Almighty God reside in such a humble spirit as this Jesus?

These Jews failed their vision test... presents Leonard Sweet